XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review
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Thanks to randomly generated names, nicknames, appearances, and nationalities, every soldier is unique — unless you choose to customize these elements yourself. This lends a sense of personality to your troops and makes their deaths — which are permanent — more meaningful than those of the faceless goons typically seen in strategy games, whom you wouldn’t think twice about using as cannon fodder.
Once your troops are out in the Area of Operations, a combination of a cover system and destructible environments leads to intense skirmishes in dynamic battlefields, and different mission objectives lead to varied approaches to an engagement. Are you locating and safely escorting an ally to a drop zone? Are you seeking out and defusing a bomb that is counting down to a big boom? Are you rescuing as many civilians as possible before the aliens kill them? Or are you just mowing down every alien in the area?
An “action camera” offers cinematic highlights of the battle, showing off kill-shots in slow-motion glory, tense over-the-shoulder sprinting from cover to cover, and in-your-face kick-in-the-door action. Of course, if you don’t like having fun, you can disable the action cam.
The battlefields themselves are varied, including charred forests, cemeteries, parking lots, and gas stations. You’ll eventually start to recognize maps you’ve played on before, but by changing the areas in which player and AI troops spawn in, battles are kept fresh. Map navigating is normally intuitive and straightforward, although when within a multi-story building, it can be difficult to click on the correct tile while you’re seeing through multiple floors.
That aside, I believe the devs, overall, did a great job at letting walls and roofs disappear or turn transparent when they would block your view of the action. Combined with XCOM’s stylized visuals, battlefields have great readability, and identifying hostiles is never an issue.
The art direction serves the game well, and apart from the sometimes ugly faces that the Unreal Engine tends to produce, XCOM looks great. The sweeping camera angles and Michael Bay lens flares used in cutscenes, along with an epic soundtrack and the “action cam,” lend a cinematic feel to the game that adds weight and impact to the experience.
Ultimately, XCOM delivers a truly enjoyable, engaging, and entertaining experience. The tactical combat and strategic components are married seamlessly in a union of fun gameplay, and XCOM’s cinematic flare is worthy of Hollywood. I do have some concerns about the game’s replay value, because once you’ve beaten the campaign, your choices are to either start fresh and play through the campaign again on a different difficulty setting, or opt for multiplayer.
While random elements will result in a different experience, I’m not sure there’s enough fresh content to encounter to warrant multiple playthroughs. As for the barebones multiplayer component, it’s a basic squad-versus-squad battle in which two players select from a pool of stock units, with no persistent rewards or consequences. Curiously, there isn’t even an option to play versus an AI opponent.
Still, even if you’ll only get one playthrough out of XCOM, that’s upwards of 20 hours of playtime, and you can milk it for much more. Moreover, the promise of mod support lends hope of unlocking XCOM’s true potential — I can already think of a few simple mods that would easily see me sink another 20 hours into the game. Any fan of tactical strategy needs to play XCOM: Enemy Unknown, period.
- Engaging story
- Running the XCOM headquarters is exciting
- Turn-based combat is well-executed
- Soldiers have personality
- Cinematic flare
- Multiplayer leaves much to be desired
- Not as much replay value as expected
Final Score: 90/100